During the last month there have been three large studies that drew media attention regarding healthy food intake. The first study dealt with processed meats (sausages, ham, bacon). Over 12.7 years those consuming 160 Gm per day (=5.64 oz.) were 44% more likely to die prematurely than those who ate only 20 Gm (=0.7 oz.) of processed meat per day. The study included 10 European countries including about 500,000 people over almost 13 years; nearly 10,000 people died from cancer and 5,500 from heart problems.
Then there was the Harvard study that analyzed 114 national dietary surveys around the globe and came to the conclusion that every year there are 180,000 obesity related deaths from overuse of sugary drinks. The US stands third highest on the ranking list regarding deaths from drinking sugary soda pops. The deaths are due to heart attacks, strokes and diabetes, which associate with obesity.
As if this was not enough the third bad news story was published shortly after regarding salt overuse: At a cardiology conference in New Orleans Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the main author regarding the sugar study mentioned above, revealed a long-term study regarding salt intake between 1990 and 2010 . He determined that 15% of all deaths that occur around the world every year (which translated into 2.3 million people) are the result of salt overuse. The recommended salt limit is 1500 mg per day. But many people in the study consumed 4000 to 6000 mg of salt per day or more. This led to hypertension, heart attacks and strokes with the yearly mortality rates indicated.
What do these studies have in common and why is processed food so devastating?
All these studies pointed out that processed foods are dangerous to your health. Sausages, ham and bacon contain a lot of fat and salt; they are full of extra calories and they elevate your fatty substances in your blood (triglycerides, cholesterol). The extra salt raises your blood pressure. Processed meat is also poor in omega-3-fatty acids. No wonder that they can cause heart problems and cancer.
Next we have the sugary soda drinks, but also the hidden sugar in starchy processed foods like cookies, bagels, bread and cakes. Dough and pasta digests within 30 minutes into sugar, which your gut absorbs and your liver processes as extra calories to be stored as fat. Where? As visceral fat and subcutaneous fat, and the end result is obesity. At the same time the sugar from soft drinks and the sugar from starches stimulate the pancreas to produce extra insulin, which leads to hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance. This is known as metabolic syndrome and was found to be an independent risk factor for heart attacks apart from high LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides. We know for quite some time that obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are all associated with a higher rate of deaths from heart attacks and strokes.
Finally, there is the salt overuse story. In 2009 the same Harvard group that gave us the world data on salt mortality now, stated that 102,000 Americans die every year from salt overconsumption. The same study cited that 82,000 Americans die needlessly every year due to their love affair with deep fried foods (due to high trans fatty acids) , and 84,000 die from a lack of omega-3-fatty acids in their diet, which when present in the diet protects from heart attacks and strokes. What does food processing do? It reduces or eliminates dietary omega-3-fatty acids, adds cheap oils containing omega-6-fatty acids (the fatty acids that lead to inflammation), adds salt, sugar and starch. It is the perfect recipe to die from strokes and heart attacks. The same research group from Harvard University did a study in India, published in 2010, where they established that salt overconsumption caused insulin resistance and this was the cause of higher mortality from heart attacks and strokes.
Other studies pointing to the dangers of processed food
Deficits in cognitive function (dementia or Alzheimer’s disease) have been linked to dietary habits, particularly sugar and starch overconsumption. Research has established that hyperinsulinemia or insulin resistance is responsible for the degenerative changes in the brain of Alzheimer patients. This study also pointed out that these diets are typically very low or deficient in omega-3-fatty acids, which is necessary for normal nerve cell metabolism in the brain. The lack of it leads to brain cell disease like Alzheimer’s and a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in nerves leads to damaged nerves which in turn cause excruciating pain.This condition is also known as neuropathy. Here is a good blog about why you should avoid processed foods, if you want to keep a clear mind as you are aging.
In the middle ages it was first observed that overindulging in red meat and sausages caused gout attacks.Gout was known as a disease of the rich. Higher uric acid levels, which are found in gout have been linked to higher mortality rates from heart attacks and stokes. A low purine diet can lower the risk for gout and also the risk for heart attacks and strokes. It is interesting that this type of a diet is also devoid of processed food at the same time.
What can we do to reduce dangers to our health?
We have identified the suspects; it is sugar, starchy foods, salt and processed meats. Instead of just buying precooked meals, boxed foods and other processed foods from the center of the grocery store or from a fast food place, look for original ingredients more at the periphery of the grocery store. Read food labels and look for sugar, fat and salt content. Start buying organic food and buy the ingredients you need to prepare a meal by yourself. When you start preparing your own meals with organic ingredients, you may as well avoid the toxins that I described in a recent blog.
By buying organic foods, you largely avoid these toxins. Don’t exceed your daily limit of 1500 mg of salt, as your kidneys are not able to process this and would cause you to get high blood pressure. Personally I cut out all sugar and starch from my diet since 2001. This includes potatoes, pasta, bread, bagels, French fries, toast etc. However, you will get enough complex carbohydrates (from vegetables and greens), which get absorbed much slower and do not cause the insulin surge by the pancreas as highly processed carbs would do. You want to eat foods rich in omega-3-fatty acids, but there are problems with seafood (even salmon) as it is often contaminated with mercury. You can circumvent this by taking three capsules of high potency, molecularly distilled omega-3 per day. This is free of toxins and protects your brain and nerves from the dangers mentioned above. Your organic vegetables and greens have enough natural minerals in them that you will hardly ever require to add salt to your food. Do not add extra salt when you cook or when you eat your prepared meals. Use spices instead. Also avoid eating out too often. Restaurants are notorious for overusing salt.
More information on nutrition: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/
Here is a useful blog that helps you to identify the problems with processed food and what you need to do to improve your food intake. http://www.healthy-eating-politics.com/processed-foods.html
3. Alzheimer’s and pre-diabetes with insulin resistance: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/17/carb-diet-alzheimers/1637481/
Last edited Nov. 6, 2014